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what are we to understand by the term, church, when employed to designate that power by which discipline is to be administered? The Independent or Congregational churches believe that it signifies the collective body of all those who compose an individual congregation, and consequently teach, that the proper persons to administer discipline are the professing members of the church generally, assembled together for that purpose. Accordingly, when an act of discipline is to be performed, the members in full communion hold a public meeting in the church, in which the minister presides ; and the particular case is taken into consideration, debated and decided, and a committee is appointed to carry the decision into effect.Hence, “the power of excision (says à Congregational writer) lies in the church itself, (the assembled members who constitute the congregation.) The officers take the sense of the members; and after the matter has been properly investigated, and all necessary steps taken to reclaim the offender, the church proceeds to the ac. tual exclusion of the person from among them, by signifying their judgment or opinion, that the person is unworthy a place in God's house.” This mode of procedure, to say the least is plausible and seems to compare
well with some of the directions and usages of the primitive christians, recorded in Holy Scripture. Our Presbyterian brethren differ somewhat in their interpretation of the word church when used in the sense above stated, and comprehend by it, the representatives or officers properly appointed to superintend the concerns of the church, to wit, the minister and lay-elders. Agreeably to this view, discipline is administered among them by the pastor and elders in the manner and by the authority of the church, so that, what they do, the church is said to do, in the same light in which the acts of a state legislature are declared to be the acts of the people. The Congregationalists recognize but two office. bearers in their connection, namely, bishops or pastors and deacons, the former to attend to its spiritual affairs, and the latter to direct its temporal concerns. But the Presbyterians have their lay or ruling elders, and labor hard to prove that they are originally of divine appointment. We for ourselves have examined their arguments, and do not hesitate to pronounce them in our opinion inconclusive. We verily believe that the scripture evidence in favor of Confirmation is, to say the least, quite as clear and decided as that adduced to support lay-eldership, and yet Presbyterians reject the former without a moments hesitancy.
Our business however at present, is not to exhibit the opinions of others, but to point out what we Lutberans believe to be the correct course of conduct in the process of administering discipline, and we are proud to say that in our own view, we greatly have the vantage ground. We believe that the New Testament has laid down no specific form of discipline, and that we are left to adopt that mode of procedure which expedience and the general and unequivocal principles of the Gospel dictate. We do not mean by this, that the Lord Jesus Christ, has left no apostolic precept or example, which is either directory for our practice, or obligatory upon our conscience in the government of the church; but simply, that he has given no specific directions that are obligatory under all circumstances and adapted to every case, and only establised general principles, and left us to deduce from them such specific regulations as may seem best adapted to the peculiar exigencies of the church, and most subservient to the promotion of the divine glory. That this is the common belief of Lutheranism, we appeal to its acknowledged authorities.* Accordingly, when the term “church” is used to express the authority whereby its discipline is to be administered, we understand it to imply, not like the Congregationalists, the individual members belonging to the church, but like the Presbyterians, the officers of the church. But we differ from the latter also, in that we have a great variety of officers. They have only Elders, namely preaching elders or ministers and ruling elders ; we have both and likewise deacons, (and to these some churches add Trustees.) We believe that the bishops of the primitive churches correspond exactly to the pastors of modern ones.
That bishop elder, and pastor are only different terms for the same office, is evi. dent from Acts xx : 17, compared with v. 28. Titus i: 5–7, and 1 Peter v: 1-2. They are called bishops which signifies overseers, because they overlook the spiritual concerns and watch for the souls of their spiritual brethren. Acts xx : 28. 1 Timothy ii : 1. -Pastors or Shepherds, because they feed the flock of God with truth, Ephesians iiii, 11.-Rulers, because they guide the church, Hebrews 13–7.-Elders because of their age, or of their possessing those qualities which age supposes, Titus i: 5.—Ministers, because they are the servants of Christ and the Gospel, Ephesians 6 21. Their duties, as well as those of the other officers are principally pointed out in the Formula,t.except Trustees, whose chief business is, to have charge of the property belonging to the church, but where this class of officers does not exist, the trust imposed upon them, devolves upon the deacons.
Now from the foregoing remarks, it appears that the proper authority to administer discipline, is the church, and that by the church, we are here to understand, the church-officers in general viz. the Pastor, Elders, Deacons and Trustees. The two latter however are rather to be regarded as temporal officers, and though by virtue of their office, they are bound to be present and to express their sentiments when a question of discipline is to be decided, yet, in our
**Jesus Christ, the Supreme Head of his church, having prescribed no entire specific directory for government and discipline, and every section of his church being left at full liberty to make such regulations to that effect, as may be most adapted to its situation and circumstances, &c.” vide introduction to the constitution of the General Synod.
“As Jesus Christ has left no entire specific form of Government and Discipline for his church ; it is the duty of every individual church,” &c. Formula, Chapter i, Sec. v.
Vide Formula, Chap. ii, Sec. i, & vi.
opinion they have or should have no vote. The duty of judging an offending brother is purely spiritual, and therefore devolves upon those whose office is purely spiritual, viz. the pastor and elders.*
If it be asked, what authority we have for this regulation ?-We answer, as good as any other church has for its peculiar mode of administering discipline. We refer to those broad principles laid down in God's word, and to that authorised expediency deducible from those principles, and demanded by the peculiar wants and sometimes conflicting circumstances of separate churches. That Pastors and Deacons are of divine appointment, is granted by all protestant churches, that pastors or preaching elders are required to “rule well” as well as “labor in word and doctrine,” will not be questioned. And as for lay elders and trustees, we do not believe that any direct authority can be found in Scripture for either, but we claim upon grounds of expediency. And the Lutheran church believes, as already proven, that when explicit directions are wanting, expediency is to be consulted in determining the best plan to regulate the economy of God's house, and promote the glory of our divine Master. We have only yet to add that all above church officers, who, in their collective body are designated by the appropriate appellation of “church-council," are elected by the members in full communion with the church for a term of not less than two nor more than eight years, vide Formula, Chapt.ïïi, Sect. vii.
Having thus ascertained who the persons are by whom discipline should be administered, we beg the attention of the indulgent reader, while we go on to consider
4. The manner in which it must be carried into effect.
Here we are not left to navigate our vessel on the troubled ocean of theological opinion, or the uncertain sea of expediency, where opposing currents, stormy winds and concealed rocks may endanger our safety. No, we feel as if we were now travelling on terra firma, and if occasionally we should have to venture out upon the dubious waters of conjecture, we have an unerring compass which is the word of God, and though reason must be the steersman at the helm, the needle points so steadily and so clearly the direction we are to take, that we cannot wel miss our course.
But before we proceed to discuss this particular, we must premise, that many unimportant misunderstandings and trivial moral obliquities transpire in a congregation, with which the chu rch should not be troubled, but which should be privately adjusted by the individuals concerned. Thus, “if thy brother shall tresspass against thee, go and tell him his, fault, between thee and him alone-if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more.” &c. Mat. xviii: 15, 16,
*In these remarks, as well as in some others which are yet to be advanced, we may perhaps not precisely fall in with the established views of the Lutheran Church"; should we mistake those views or glide into any errors or mistatements, we shall be glad if any of our brethren will have the goodness to correct us.
So far, we perceive the subject of difference or offence is not to be brought before the church. But if an injured or offended member, has employed the means just recommended, and found them ineffectual, that is to say, if he has privately admonished his erring brother, calmly and amicably argued the case with him, mildly and seriously endeavored to convince him of his mistake ;-if he has moreover continued his benevolent exertions and taken with him one or two of his christian brethren, and in their presence and with their aid yet further reasoned the matter, with him, and he will not come to an agreement, or refer the case to their arbitration ; what is the next measure to be adopted ?--The Saviour replies : "Tell it unto the church.” Here then the jurisdiction of the church commences.* The case must be reported to the pastor or elders, who are the representatives of the church; and the pastor or elders may either immediately join their admonitions to those of the persons already engaged in it, which perhaps will be sufficient to produce the desired effect, or they may lay it before the assembled church-council at their next meeting. Should they find the complaint to be frie volous or groundless, they should rebuke the complainant and take no further notice of the matter ; but if they judge it sufficiently serious to become a subject of discipline, they must appoint a discreet committee from among themselves to wait on the brother that has trespassed," and in their official capacity, use efforts similar to those above suggested for the purpose of bringing about the same result. This deputation inay be repeated if the case seem to require it. Should the offender manifest satisfactory evidences of contrition, a simple and affectionate admonition to him to “go and sin no more" will suffice, and he should forthwith be restored to the confidence of the church. But if he be obstinate, denying the charge or palliating his sin, and persist in this course from time to time, then the church-council should proceed to execute the law by separating him from their communion. His contumacy has awfully aggravated his original offence. He has now pertinaciously, neglected to hear the church.” He has become a stumbling block, a blur, a dishonor, a disgrace to the congregation, to retain him any longer in the bosom of the church, would be to defile the temple of Jehovah, incar the frowns of God and injure the best interests of his cause, Hence the command of the Master must be obeyed, “that wicked person must be put away from among us,” and be regarded as an heathen man and a publican.”!
*So soon as the church takes up the matter, a resolution ought to be passed by its officers, suspending the individual from the privilege of communing.
Every Church-Council should hold stated meetings for the transaction of congregational business,-in towns those meetir. should be monthly, in country churches it may be sufficient to hold them quarterly.
If it be asked, how long the efforts of the Pastor and Elders for the recovery of an offending member, should be continued, and
Previously to the final act of excommunication, the transgressor should be cited before the church-council to assign cause why sentence of expulsion should not be passed against him ; if he attend, possibly the matter may yet be adjusted and he restored, but if he refuse to appear, the case must terminate against him.
In the foregoing remarks we have supposed the case of a trespass of one individual against another. But should a member be guilty of misconduct which is an offence against the church at large, (vide part ii of this Article,) then every member should consider it his duty to admonish him in the spirit of meekness and affection agreeatly to James v: 19, 20. and the church council are bound to take cognizance of it, whether formally reported to them or not, and to proceed as above stated.
In some cases when a member is notoriously known to be guilty of a high crime or scandalous offence, the painful operation of excision should be forthwith performed without taking all those preliminary measures required to be cbserved in ordinary cases.
Non ember should be permitted to escape expulsion by resigning. “It beccrries not the wisdom and order of any society, (says Dr. Owen) intrusted with authority for its own preservation, as the church is by Christ himself, to, suffer persons obnoxious to censure-to cast off all respect to it, to break their order and relation, without animadverting thereupon, according to the authority, where. with they are intrusted. To do otherwise is to expose their order unto contempt, and proclaim a diffidence in their own authority for the spiritual punishment of offenders.
“The exclusion of a person from any Christian church does not affect his temporal estate and civil affairs ;-it makes no change in the natural and civil relations between husbands and wives &c.neither does it deprive a man of the liberty of attending public worship ; it removes him, however, from the communion of the church, and the privileges dependent on it : this is done that he may be ashamed of his sin, and be brought to repentance ; that the honor of Christ may be vindicated, and that stumbling-blocks may be removed out of the way. Too great caution cannot be observed in procedures of this kind, every thing should be done with the greatest meekness, deliberation, prayer, and a deep 'sense of our own unworthiness, with a compassion for the oftender and a fixed design of embracing every opportunity of doing him good, by reproving, instructing and if possible, restoring him to the enjoyment how often reiterated ? We think the answer must depend upon the circumstances of the case. Sometimes there may be such dekice od depravity and olstiracy ciscovered as would justify an immediate expulsion, and on other occasions there may be such an appearance of hope as would warrant a repetition and perseverance of effort for the space of $ of 4 or even 5 months. But in no ordinary instance should a question of discipline be pending more than 4 or 5 morths. Il in that time an erring member cannot be gaired, he is unworthy of any further special exertions.